An investigation has been launched into a dinner party said to be in aid of charity and which cost two Cabinet ministers their jobs, a senior police source said yesterday.
The dinner, at Blu Bar and Grill Restaurant in Warwick, caused uproar after footage emerged of Wayne Caines, the national security minister, and Zane DeSilva, the tourism minister, in breach of strict Covid-19 regulations at the event.
The police source confirmed: “We are investigating whether it was a criminal act.”
Early videos circulating on social media showed the two MPs moving around and dancing on stage at the event, claimed to be a fundraiser for Meals on Wheels, without masks and failing to observe social-distancing. They quit on Monday after they were “invited to resign” by David Burt, the Premier.
The source said that potential offences included breaches of Covid-19 emergency powers legislation and possible offences under the Bribery Act.
Police also confirmed that they would examine the potential public health risk posed by the MPs’ failure to wear masks and that a decision would be made on whether to forward a file for review by the Director of the Department of Public Prosecutions.
A large group exemption for a charity dinner in aid of Meals on Wheels was authorised by the Ministry of National Security.
Permission is required for gatherings of more than 50 people under the emergency regulations legislation.
The charity later said it was not aware of the event.
A Progressive Labour Party source claimed this week that the party was thrown in celebration of the birthday of Mr DeSilva’s wife, Joanne, which Mr DeSilva denied.
The event was held last Friday and Mrs DeSilva’s birthday was on Sunday.
More videos of the event posted on social media last night showed both ministers dancing for about 40 seconds alongside a saxophonist and others in a room full of revellers without masks.
Footage also showed partygoers dancing on tables without masks or physically distancing, and the saxophonist walking in between diners.
Blu had claimed there had only been a failure in social distancing late in the evening.
A spokeswoman said on Monday: “The sit-down dinner proceeded without any incident during the two-hour period — however, at the end of the evening, a surprise saxophonist played as some guests were leaving and, in the excitement, social distancing was not maintained.”
Mr DeSilva apologised for his actions on ZBM on Tuesday, but claimed that everyone was sitting down and abiding by the rules for the majority of the evening.
He added: “When everyone else stopped to watch the guy play his saxophone, as a minister, I should have said ‘hey look, just keep moving, don’t stop’.
“He was there to serenade people on their way out so that’s my mistake and for that ... I have to pay the price for that.”
Mr Caines admitted in a statement on Monday night that he had gone against regulations by not remasking when he left the table.
He said: “As the event concluded, the organisers arranged for a musician to serenade the attendees as they departed.
“And as I left the event, I re-masked only as I approached the exit when, in fact, I should have worn my face covering as soon as I left the table.”
Assistant Commissioner of Police Martin Weekes said that the Bermuda Police Service were “looking into all aspects of the event as reported to us to ensure that no offences were committed”.
Mr Weekes added: “The BPS will work with the charity commissioners to establish what protocols should be in place.”
In response to questions on whether the dinner had been ruled a legitimate charity event and whether a temporary fundraising licence was applied for from the Registry General, a home affairs spokesman said: “Permission to hold the charity dinner for Meals on Wheels, as listed on the application, published on July 2, 2020, was granted by the then Minister of National Security and posted on Government Notices in the Official Gazette.
“Exemption was granted under regulation 5 (1) and (2) of the Public Health (Covid-19 Emergency Powers) Regulations 2020 on groups of more than 50 persons assembling.”
The event was organised by Zarabi Entertainment, which said that $10,000 had been raised for Meals on Wheels.
A PLP source claimed that Zarabi Entertainment was operated by Mr DeSilva’s daughter, Zarah, with her husband, the international reggae artist Collie Buddz.
Conditions of the large group exemption, signed off by Mr Caines while still minister, read: “Whereas the Minister of National Security considers that the proposed Charity Fundraising Dinner for the registered charity organisation Meals on Wheels on Friday, July 3, 2020 is an exceptional circumstance justifying an exemption from the prohibition in regulation 5 (1) and (2) of the Public Health (Covid 19 emergency Powers) Regulations 2020 on groups of more than 50.”
Regulations for Phase 4 of the four-stage return to normality listed on the Government’s website ruled that customers in restaurants and bars “must wear masks/face coverings at all times when not seated at a table or when moving around the venue” and that staff must wear masks/face coverings at all times.
Mr Weekes said the emergency powers legislation for the pandemic was clear on what constituted an offence.
He added: “All reports of persons not complying with the regulations will be reviewed to ascertain the risks to public health caused by the act and a report will be complied for review by an officer of inspector rank for a decision on whether to put a file forward for review by the Director of Public Prosecutions.”
Mr Weekes said that table sparklers used as decorations at the Blu event were legal. He added: “The type of decorative cake candles that were used were examined prior to the event by an officer from the Bermuda Police Service’s explosive ordnance disposal unit to ensure they were safe for use by consumers.”
He added that the organisers of the event had spoken to the commissioner’s office to ensure that “the necessary permissions were in place” for their use.
• UPDATE: This story was amended to include details of new video footage that emerged on social media last night, and to make clear that the claim the event was a birthday party for Joanne DeSilva came from a Progressive Labour Party source, not a party spokesman.